Embracing greatness; quiet stardom; the coming autopsy: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil

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For the host nation, it was one of the most demoralizing games in World Cup history – a semifinal embarrassment that saw one the world’s most renown soccer nation humbled in historic fashion. But for the victors, it was a coming-of-age conquest – a result that validated years of promise that’d gone unfulfilled.

Perhaps Germany still needs to win on Sunday to fulfill its goals, but with a 7-1 win over Brazil in Belo Horizonte, the three-time champions gave us a memory that transcends any single game, tournament, or result. This was truly unforgettable – a onslaught that will define this group of players from now until their replacements come through. No matter what happens on this weekend’s final, nobody will forget the heights Germany reached in today’s demolition of Brazil.

Consider that one talking point from today’s semifinal, though the conclusions we can draw from such a strange, lopsided game are less clear. That’s our next stop as we start to dissect today’s shock result:

[MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1, yes 7-1, to make eighth World Cup final ]

1. Germany makes its claim to greatness

As Brazil 2014’s progressed, some begun to bemoan the lack of a truly great team, apparently seeing that as a requirement for anybody who lifts the World Cup Trophy. Never mind that fact that the last six World Cups have only produced three clearly great teams (Spain 2010, Brazil 2002, France 1998). This year’s tournament just fizzling out great without a transcendent squad, the thinking implied.

After today’s performance, that qualm should morph into a question: Is Germany this tournament’s great one? Considering what we saw in the first half, it’s a fair question. When you put-up five goals in 19 minutes against the tournament favorites, performances against Algeria and Ghana become understandably overlooked.

The Germans will need another dominant stretch on Sunday for history embrace their greatness, but don’t expect anything approaching today’s result. Argentina or the Netherlands will be far better than Brazil, while Germany’s larger body of work suggests this is an exception, not a rule.

But what an exception it was. Brazil was disgustingly bad, but how many teams are capable of a scoring seven in the semifinal against anybody, let alone a team as talented as the Selecao? What other squad in the world would have been able to exploit those errors with such ruthless efficiency? How many teams are capable of bringing it all together to the extent we saw from Germany?

Maybe the Spain that was? Perhaps a team with Lionel Messi could produce this result, but given what we’ve seen from Argentina, that’s purely hypothetical. Beyond those two teams, we have to look back consult history in lieu of the present. Maybe Cruyff’s Dutch teams, on their best day, could have replicated this result.

Perhaps Sunday will prove Germany’s more fallible, less apt to satisfy people’s need for greatness, but for one day in Belo Horizonte, Joachim Löw gave the critics what they wanted. Germany gave us Brazil 2014’s first flashes of greatness, carving out a historic result in the process.

[MORE: Germany vs. Brazil: Looking back at 19 minutes of carnage in Belo Horizonte ]

source: AP
Brazil’s Oscar  after Germany defeated Brazi in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

2. The post-mortem on Brazil will be long, excruciating

The most reasonable explanation for today’s result will likely be “Brazil just played poorly.” Over the last two years, we’ve seen enough to know they’re just not this bad. In fact, they’re usually pretty good. Today was clearly an outlying performance, one that becomes more explicable when you remember Brazil was without Neymar and Thiago Silva. This as just one of those days.

Tactics will be analyzed, individual performances will be vilified, but you don’t end up with such a decisive scoreline without a psychological element. At some point, Brazil snapped mentally, either realizing they were out of their league or psychologically panicking amid the German onslaught. Perhaps it was the pressure and expectations. Maybe it was knowing Neymar and Silva were out. Regardless Brazil turned off.

But the same dangers we face in evaluating Germany — the tendency to give too much weight to a small, outlying period of time — we’ll  also encounter with Brazil. The team was clearly flawed, but they were only flawed relative to the other tournament favorites. Today’s performance was unpredictably out-of-character.

At its most important time, Brazil gave its most disappointing performance. Hopefully, after the autopsy, hopefully fans will see a strong, talented team that fell unforeseeably short.

3. Die nationalmannschaft’s quiet stardom

If you judged by publicity, advertising, and pre-tournament buzz, Mario Götze was probably Germany’s biggest star. Philipp Lahm was most respected, and perhaps Thomas Müller was his side’s most productive, but Götze was the brightest of the Mannschaft’s stars. A starter at the beginning of the tournament, the Bayern Munich attacker is still seen as the future of his national team.

On Tuesday, however, the 22-year-old didn’t get on the field. Instead, it was a slew of slightly less publicized talents. Not that Müller, Toni Kroos, or Sami Khedira lack in renown, but they’re rarely discussed amongst the game’s elites. And among players that are considered as their generation’s defining players, you rarely hear the names Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, or Lahm, even though all three garner tremendous respect.

source: AP
Germany’s Miroslav Klose gestures as he is substituted during in Belo Horizonte. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

In a tournament where finding the next Diego Maradona is an obsession, where the performances of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are judged in terms of their ability to carry countries on their shoulders, Germany has nobody in that conversation. In the soccer world, the team’s entire lineup draws acclaim. As far as transcendent stars, though, there isn’t a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the bunch.

Yet here we are, trying to put a 7-1 win over the host nation, the pre-tournament favorite, in perspective. Klose now holds the all-time record for World Cup goals, while Müller, only 24 years old, is already up to 10 career tallies. Manuel Neuer has been among the best goalkeepers at the tournament, while the acclaim of head coach Joachim Löw will only grow after this dismantling. As the spotlight on German grows, they’ll be plenty of fame to go around.

But make a list of the most famous players in the world, and you’ll probably go 10, 12 deep before writing a German name. As their accomplishments start to match their promise, though, the quality of their stars will be undeniable.

Perhaps there’s no Messi, Ronaldo, or Ibrahimovic in their ranks, but a more quiet stardom may prove more successful. Whether we consider the Müllers, Krooses, or Khediras amongst the games best, they just produced one of the game’s more impressive results. Perhaps limiting them to mere stars does them a disservice.

 

VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Southampton

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  • Foxes won 4-1 on Dec. 13 at St. Mary’s
  • Southampton five points back of 17th
  • Saints lead all-time 32W-27D-26L

Southampton is running out of time to save its Premier League status, and makes up its match-in-hand on several clubs with a visit to Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET, online via NBC Sports Gold).

Saints are five points back of 17th place Swansea City, though the Welsh side has also played 33 matches. They are six points behind Crystal Palace and seven back of Huddersfield Town and West Ham United.

Leicester is eighth after losing to Burnley, its Europa League hopes dashed with Everton and Newcastle nipping at their heels.

What they’re saying

Leicester City’s Claude Puel on finishing strong: “The right way, it is important to keep this momentum until the end and we will see when the players start in the game. [They must] give their best and maintain a good level in the team. We keep a serious ambition and we need to secure our place in the top half of the table. A lot of teams are close behind us so we need to continue.”

Saints’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on life in the relegation fight“The next few weeks is life-changing. Wherever our paths go, and wherever all our ways go, whether it’s short-term or long-term, this will all change our lives, this will all change our way of looking on football. I promise you, I promise to the fans, and I promise to the people standing outside, there is not one single person inside here who wants to be in this situation. There is not one person who actually thinks ‘Oh, this may be good for me in a way.’ Everyone is suffering.

Prediction

Claude Puel will be further motivated to get over on his old side, but Saints have a lot of firepower for what should be a wide-open game against sometimes-dicey back lines (often dicey in the case of Southampton). 2-2.